×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Film Review: ‘Midnight Sun’

Bella Thorne plays a young woman with xeroderma pigmentosum who risks her life for a little romance in this by-the-numbers teen tragedy.

Director:
Scott Speer
With:
Bella Thorne, Patrick Schwarzenegger, Rob Riggle

Rated PG-13  1 hour 31 minutes

Google “xeroderma pigmentosum” and you will find no photos of pale young women who look like Bella Thorne in “Midnight Sun.” The condition, in which the body is unable to heal DNA damaged by exposure to UV rays, has side effects that might appear freakish to the average person, including an abundance of freckles, dry skin, cancerous lesions, and spider veins, but which convey just how serious XP is for those who suffer from it (only one in five makes it to his or her 20th birthday).

It could have simply been a marketing trick, but at advance screenings of “Midnight Sun,” they put a small box of tissues at everybody’s seat. Good thing too: The independently produced melodrama — a remake of a popular 2006 weepie from Japan, where the potentially fatal skin condition is six times more common — doesn’t jerk tears so much as coax them, like a shy cat from under a parked car, turning audiences into willing accomplices exploiting XP for the sake of cheap catharsis.

Considering the statistics, such a story serves some cultural value in Japan, where the problem affects one in 40,000 people. In the U.S., however, this tacky make-a-wish fantasy is merely the latest addition to that odd subgenre of terminal-teen romance — from “Love Story” to “The Boy in the Plastic Bubble” — in which a case of puppy love between a pair of preternaturally beautiful young people is rudely interrupted by the Grim Reaper.

Thorne plays Katie, a red-haired, Disney-princess-like shut-in whose skin looks alternately lab-rat pink or gecko green depending on the weirdly unflattering indoor lighting — call it “the fault in our star’s makeup.” Tucked away behind thick UV-blocking windows nearly all her life, Katie has been homeschooled by her overprotective father (Rob Riggle), who encourages her self-taught interest in music, to the extent that he permits her to take her guitar down to the tracks and sing for strangers after dark, so long as she returns before curfew.

Are there any towns left in America with such a backlot-safe feel that a worrywart dad would allow a naive teenage girl with next to no experience interacting with strangers hang out at the local train station? And are there any sullen teenage boys who would skip out of a graduation party packed with popular kids in order to saunter by themselves, only to be smitten by a mystery girl’s disembodied voice?

Like a mid-century fairy tale, this is practically Frank Capra territory, if Capra had spent the 1950s making teenybopper segments for “The Mickey Mouse Club.” That sitcom-optimistic tone owes to director Scott Speer, a music-video veteran who made his feature debut with “Step Up Revolution,” and who is clearly more comfortable overseeing pop-song montages than scenes involving two characters getting to know each other.

Playing a sensitive jock named Charlie, Patrick Schwarzenegger boasts the Aryan good looks American audiences are conditioned to admire in homecoming kings, although he’ll need some more training to diversify his limited range of expressions (which alternate between blank-faced stoicism and that trademark Schwarzenegger grimace-smile that looks more charming on father Arnold). Still, Charlie is convincingly sensitive, and that goes a long way in a movie that hinges on his being dim enough not to suspect that his new available-only-after-dark girlfriend could die if exposed to the sun. (Then again, would you?)

If all of this sounds insufferable, rest assured that Speer and screenwriter Eric Kirsten attempt to humanize the two teenagers’ experience, empathizing with Katie — who keeps her condition a secret because she doesn’t want to be defined by her disease — while appealing to those nobody-understands-me-like-you feelings outsider teens crave from first love. With the sun as her enemy, Katie’s central conflict essentially becomes whether it’s possible to cram a meaningful romance into the limited time she has with Charlie (a theme that doesn’t necessarily require a terminal illness, as last year’s “Call Me by Your Name” demonstrated).

The trouble isn’t just that “Midnight Sun” cherry-picks the most poetic elements of a real-world disease to serve its transparently manipulative ends, but that it offers audiences such an unrealistic portrait of romance in the process. Coping with illness and grief are valid subjects for teenage audiences to confront, but “Midnight Sun” essentially fetishizes Katie’s condition, using it to imbue her signature anthem — a song called “Burn So Bright” — with unearned emotion. Those who do go to see it might want to keep a pack of tissues handy anytime the song plays on the radio.

Film Review: 'Midnight Sun'

Reviewed at AMC Century City, Los Angeles, March 14, 2018. MPAA Rating: PG-13. Running time: 91 MIN.

Production: An Open Road Films release of a Global Road Pictures presentation, in association with Boies Schiller Film Group, of a Boies Schiller Film Group, Wrigley Pictures production. Producers: Jen Gatien, Tracey Jeffrey, John Rickard, Zack Schiller. Executive producers: David Boies, Zack Schiller, Jame McGough, Alan Ou. Co-producers: Erika Abe, Devin Andre, Katherine S. Chang, Katie Silberman.

Crew: Director: Scott Speer. Screenplay: Eric Kirsten, based on the motion picture screenplay “Taiyô no uta” by Kenji Bando. Camera (color, widescreen): Karsten Gopinath. Editors: Michelle Harrison, Tia Nolan. Music: Ethan Dorr, Morgan Dorr, Nate Walcott.

With: Bella Thorne, Patrick Schwarzenegger, Rob Riggle, Quinn Shephard, Suleka Mathew.

More Film

  • Lisa Borders Time's Up

    Time's Up President Lisa Borders Resigns

    Lisa Borders has resigned as president of Time’s Up, she and the organization announced on Monday. Borders is resigning due to family issues, she said in a statement. Time’s Up COO Rebecca Goldman will now serve as interim CEO. “As Time’s Up continues to grow, I am proud of the work I have done to [...]

  • Keira Knightly as "Rachael Morgan" in

    Film Review: Keira Knightley in 'The Aftermath'

    Less widely seen (and acclaimed) than it deserved to be, James Kent’s debut feature “Testament of Youth” was one of the great recent love-in-wartime dramas, translating the intimate romance and sprawling human tragedy of Vera Brittain’s WWI memoir with a grace and heft worthy of its David Lean allusions. Four years on, it’s not hard [...]

  • Inside Amazon's New Feature Film Strategy

    Amazon's New Film Strategy: Straight-to-Service Titles and Starry Sundance Buys

    It was close to midnight when Amazon Studios chief Jennifer Salke got the text. The company had failed in its quest to acquire “Brittany Runs a Marathon,” a body image dramedy that captivated Salke when she saw it at Sundance. A sales agent on the project messaged her to say that a competitor offered a [...]

  • Alfonso Cuaron71st Annual Writers Guild Awards,

    Alfonso Cuarón on Academy's 'Inevitable' Reversal on Televised Oscar Categories

    Alfonso Cuarón isn’t exactly surprised that the Academy reversed its decision and will now air all the Oscar categories during the live show on Sunday. Feb. 24. Calling the decision “inevitable,”Cuarón tells Variety that he thinks the Academy should take things even further. “Let’s stop calling them technical categories!” he told Variety on Sunday night [...]

  • TorinoFilmLab Announces Selections for 2019 ScriptLab

    TorinoFilmLab Announces Selections for 2019 ScriptLab (EXCLUSIVE)

    The TorinoFilmLab has announced the 20 feature projects and five story editor trainees who have been selected to take part in the 2019 edition of ScriptLab, an initiative focused on the development of fiction feature film scripts in early development stage. Beginning in March, this year’s participants will team up with filmmakers from around the [...]

  • Alita Battle Angel

    North American Box Office Declines From Last Year With Weak Presidents Day Weekend

    “Alita: Battle Angel” easily won a tepid Presidents Day weekend with a $34.2 million at 3,790 North American locations, estimates showed Monday. Overall domestic moviegoing for 2019 has plunged 22.1% to $1.24 billion as of Monday, according to Comscore. That’s $350 million below the same date a year ago and the lowest figure at this [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content